The Cuyahoga Falls girls basketball team has made great strides so far in this young season after several down years.
The Black Tigers are 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the tough Suburban League National Conference. They nearly toppled conference power Wadsworth Wednesday on the road, falling 40-38.
"With about 10 seconds to go, we had the ball with a chance to tie the score or take the lead," Cuyahoga Falls head coach Joe Nowak said. "Wadsworth did a great job of not allowing us to really get a good look at the basket. The ball was knocked away before we could get up a shot."
Cuyahoga Falls trailed 16-11 after one quarter before tying the score at 27 at halftime. The Black Tigers were down 36-33 after three quarters.
"I don’t think Wadsworth led by more than five or six points the whole game," said Nowak. "I thought we did a great job of being able to answer every run that they made. We put ourselves in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter. We had at least three or four possessions in the last couple minutes where we were down only two points but our open shots just didn’t fall.
"But, at the same time, for us to have an opportunity to go on the road and battle and compete and give ourselves a chance to win is a reflection of the growth that the team has made and more so that the program has made.
"It wasn’t too long ago that we were pretty much not competitive at all with the top teams in the National Conference. This game is a great indication of how much growth we’ve made. Wadsworth is consistently strong. It’s a great program that year in, year out, no matter who is playing for them, you’re going to face one of the top teams that you’ll face all season."
Leading the way for Cuyahoga Falls was senior guard/forward Chelsea Huffman, who scored 18 points, including three three-point shots, and two assists.
"Even with Wadsworth’s game plan defensively trying to limit Chelsea’s effectiveness and limit her productivity, I thought she did a great job with the ball in and out of her hands," Nowak said. "She was able to handle the pressure and was still able to get to the basket and get some good looks off. She set another example of her ability on both ends of the floor to play really, really well."
Senior forward Olivia Lemmon had six points, four rebounds, two assists and four steals.
"Olivia was very, very active defensively," said the coach. "She’s one of the strongest players we have physically, and her knowledge and understanding of the game continue to increase every single time we play. Her ability to do a number of things well will not only help us in the short run but also the long run."
Senior guard/forward Raygan Corrigall scored five points, junior forward Emma Brustoski had four points and five rebounds while sophomore guard Jenna Roberts had three points and two assists. Freshman forward Mackenzie Kramer scored two points, and senior forward Abby Englehart recorded a pair of assists.
Cuyahoga Falls began the week Dec. 7 with a 67-32 rout of visiting conference rival Brecksville-Broadview Heights. It was the Black Tigers’ seventh straight win over the Bees.
Cuyahoga Falls actually trailed 16-15 after the first quarter but then exploded by outscoring Brecksville-Broadview Heights 22-4 in the second quarter for a 37-20 halftime advantage. The home team increased its lead to 50-29 after the third quarter.
"We gave up 16 points in the first quarter and then gave up only a total of 16 points the rest of the way," a proud Nowak said. "I think we showed, and proved to ourselves, the type of team we can be defensively with the energy and effort on that end of the floor. I think that ability to defend well, especially after we struggled a little bit at the start of the game, proved to us that the better we defend, the better off we’re going to be offensively as well.
"I think we’re starting to see our underclassmen understand the game a little bit more, understand situations and take advantage of opportunities that are given to them. We had 10 different girls score in that game, so to have that kind of balance and that kind of productivity spread out amongst everybody just shows the depth that we continue to work to have."
Huffman scored 22 points.
"Chelsea continues to take advantage of what teams do defensively," said Nowak. "I thought we moved the ball well, and she was able to get some good looks, especially against Brecksville’s zone defense."
Lemmon had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Corrigall scored seven points, sophomore guard Laila Smith had a career-high six points and Englehart had five points.
Points from Roberts, junior guards Kayla Brown and Audriana Bando, Bustoski and senior forward Zoe King rounded out the scoring. Roberts also dished out a career-high five assists.
"Jenna showed a tremendous amount of growth on both ends of the floor," Nowak said. "I think her decision-making was the strongest that she’s had this season. I think things are starting to slow down for her a little bit, and because they are, she’s not trying to force things too much or anything like that. She’s really showing the versatility that she brings out to the floor."
Cuyahoga Falls is scheduled to host National Conference rival Hudson Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Falls takes on American Conference crossover foe Revere Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Black Tigers are set to host Uniontown Lake next Saturday at 2:30 p.m.